Op / Ed: Social construction distracts attention from national park conservation
By Katie Toth, Special at The Times
John Muir, a historical defender of national parks, once said: “Thousands of tired, nervous and overly civilized people are beginning to discover that going to the mountains is coming home; this savagery is a necessity.I National parks protect the natural environment, wildlife and biodiversity; however, preservation is falling behind in their priority. Social construction of nature values social, political and economic benefits over true environmental conservation in national parks around the world.
Due to the social construction of desired forests and control over indigenous groups, fire suppression tactics in Venezuela’s national parks created conflict between the government and the indigenous people. The social constructs that shape the culture of the institution create boundaries that are important for the formation of identity. The tribes use fire to create a separate grassland and forest biome in the park; however, the government’s repressive tactics create their own “stories of history and indigeneity” that transform Canaima National Park into a desired forest environment.ii This aspiration to control nature to socially build this park has increased fuel loads – not only threatening the security of forests, but also creating tension and resistance. The government prioritizes the appearance of the national park over the real culture. In addition to socially restricting the environment of national parks, the government has political agendas that interfere with biodiversity conservation.
Government agencies attempted to remove a group of wild horses from Missouri National Park. These parks were created to conserve the natural landscape and biodiversity; however, the government – with social constructs in mind – has certain visions in place that hamper the natural appearance of these parks. Despite their historical and cultural importance, the government considered this species to be “wild and exotic … without a legitimate place in the agency- mandated ecosystem management and restoration scenarios. iii This attitude towards local wildlife shows the social construction – a non-environmental agenda – that the government advocates. The fact that locals had to protest the presence of this natural breed on protected land is a testament to the power the government has over the environment. By removing 25 to 30 wild horses from the preserved area, they are attempting to limit the species’ interaction with the land and their natural practices in order to create a park that they believe will be the most profitable.
Along with political benefit, governments got involved in national parks for economic benefit.
Despite an increase in pride and national culture due to tourism, a study in Kinabalu National Park observed pervasive antisocial behavior and congestion that contrasted these positive effects.iv Monetary profit has become the first of the reserved areas. Governments have manipulated national parks into what they think people will pay to see. The locals give in to this manipulation in some cases because it sometimes brings them benefits at the cost of their culture. For example, Edward Curtis edited images of American Indians in Yosemite National Park. He features American Indians, colors in the images taken and dresses them in certain ways that do not correspond to their typical behavior.v The tribes have been dehumanized to act as a park exhibit and attract more visitors. He paid the Indians to perform one of their ritual dances, but to rebel, they performed the dance backwards, showing the negative effects of tourism.
on the inhabitants of national parks. The imbalance of political power due to economic benefits has remained in this area throughout history and continues to this day.
These sources intertwine ideas with John Gast’s painting “American Progress,” which depicts the westward expansion. Showing a Greek goddess driving tribes and native “wild” animals out of the land for new settlers and technology to be placed on this land,vi it can be understood that humans want to use any open earth and expand to a uniform nature.
Governments around the world have defined ideas of normality for their reserved parks that reap political, economic and social benefits. Because they have the power, they can set up these social constructions. In the future, conservation must become the priority of national parks. Preserving the people and wildlife that inhabit these parks would be of the greatest benefit to the environment. Using natural lands and hunting native species harms biodiversity and culture, ruining the timelessness of these areas. Globally, governments must push for environmental change regarding the land and culture of national parks.
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I Drink, Harold. “Quotes from John Muir. John Muir Quotes – Writings – The John Muir Exhibition – Sierra Club, vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/favorite_quotations.aspx.
ii Sletto, Bjørn. “Conservation planning, creation of boundaries and frontier lands: the desire for forest and order in Gran Sabana, Venezuela”. Geoforum, vol. 42, no. 2, March 2011, p. 197-210. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1016 / j.geoforum.2010.12.006.
- Rikoon, J. Sanford. “Wild Horses and the Political Ecology of Nature Restoration in the Missouri Ozarks.” Geoforum, vol. 37, no. 2, March 2006, p. 200-211. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1016 / j.geoforum.2005.01.010.
- Jaafar, Mastura, et al. “Perceived Social Effects of Tourism Development: A Case Study of Kinabalu National Park”. Theoretical and empirical research in urban management, flight. 10, no. 2, Center for Research in Public Administration and Public Services, 2015, pp. 5-20, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24873524.
- Zamir, Shamoon et al. “The Native Agency and the Making of the ‘North American Indian’: Alexander B. Upshaw and Edward S. Curtis. ” American Indian Quarterly, flight. 31, no. 4, University of Nebraska Press, 2007, p. 613-53, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30113979.
vi Gast, Jean. American Progress. p. 1, https://jstor.org/stable/community.13893448.
Katie Toth is currently a first year student at Dickinson College studying Environmental Science and graduating in 2021 from Downingtown STEM Academy.